Friday, 6 March 2009

Why Put the Megillah of Ester in the Bible

Purim is Coming

This Monday night, at New London we start services at 6:30pm services with Feast to follow.


The megillah is a strangely irreligious work. Its heroine hides her faith to marry a non-Jew and triumphs largely due to the not terribly spiritual concept of skin-deep beauty. Indeed the whole destiny of the Jewish people hangs on a thread, the fall of a pur – a lot, meanwhile God is entirely hidden. And then, at the end, comes a massacre.

What happened to God’s presence? What happened to the triumph of honesty? What happened to lions lying down with lambs, at the end of the day?


There are perhaps two things that redeem the megillah and allow it to take a worthy place in the Hebrew Bible. The first is - it’s funny. There are shaggy-dog moments, pantomime villains and puns galore. OK, humour has changed in the centuries since we first entered the court of Ahasuerus but there are still laughs to be had, particularly when the megillah is read in a pink wig and accompanied by sound effects. Religion is a serious business, but religion can never be allowed to become too serious. There is a reason why Jews have a reputation for humour. We learnt most of what we know from the Bible.


The other redemptive glory of megillah, is that … it is true. We can tell all the stories we like predicated on God riding to rescue, but sometimes God doesn’t. We can tell stories that suggest that the world doesn’t orbit around skin-deep beauty, but all-too-often it can feel like it does. We can persuade ourselves that Jews always marry Jews. It just ‘ain’t necessarily so.’ Ester is the anti-Cole Porter member of the Biblical canon; so chaotic and godless that no Dawkins, Hitchens professional atheist can get a look in. It’s the vaccine to inoculate us against overly pious flights of dishonest fancy. And that makes it a very welcome addition to the Biblical canon.


Ester is the test of our religious honesty. It is the escape from the overly sober and dull. It’s well worth its inclusion in the Bible, and well worth our coming to hear its being read.


Shabbat shalom and Purim Sameach,


Rabbi Jeremy


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